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Embrace diversity, 'fight for others’: Advice for Class of 2021

President Schapiro, others delivered convocation for incoming students Monday

EVANSTON – If one message came through loud and clear from all the speakers during Northwestern University’s convocation for the class of 2021, it was to not only embrace the diversity on campus, but to support one another through the inevitable challenges ahead.

During the Monday, Sept. 18, convocation at Martin Stadium on the Evanston campus, President Morton Schapiro encouraged the 1,905 first-year and 158 transfer students to embody Midwestern values and make friends who are different from them. He quoted from a commencement speech he had heard in the past to reiterate his point.

“[This speaker] was talking about attending a so-called elite institution like Northwestern and said, ‘elite doesn’t mean elitist,’” President Schapiro said. “He said, ‘The only time you should ever look down on someone is when you reach your hands out to lift that person up.’”

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President Schapiro encouraged students to learn from each other’s differences and backgrounds, so they can one day go on to “heal the world.”

“I want your generation to do a better job than my generation, which is a pretty low bar,” President Schapiro said. “The future is with you, but the future is truly embracing difference.”

'Elite doesn’t mean elitist.' He said, ‘The only time you should ever look down on someone is when you reach your hands out to lift that person up.’”

Morton Schapiro
Northwestern University President

Provost Jonathan Holloway, in his inaugural speech to the University, also spoke about the importance of supporting fellow students “who are profoundly different from” them.  

 “Fight for others, so that someone will be around to fight for you,” Holloway said. “Commit yourself to your education, so that you can participate in the great work of making this world better than it is today.

 “Listen to the very ideas that challenge you the most, since those moments of reckoning will have a profound effect on who you become and how you will articulate your values. That is the work that is before you, and it is work worth doing.” 

70The class of 2021 has students from more than 70 countries

The class of 2021 has students from 54 Chicago neighborhoods, 48 states, more than 70 countries and can collectively speak 51 languages, according Dean of Undergraduate Admission Christopher Watson, who detailed the demographics of the incoming class during his speech Monday.

After rattling off five pieces of advice for the incoming students, Associated Student Government (ASG) president Nehaarika Mulukutla said to forget everything she had just said.

“The implicit premise of all this advice giving … is that there’s some way to get college right,” Mulukutla said. “There is no way to get college right. … It’s OK to not be perfect. Your college experience certainly won’t be, and that’s great.

“I’m telling you this now, because now you’re a Wildcat, and we Wildcats protect our own,” Mulukutla said. “For every challenge, you will have this whole Wildcat community supporting you. And for every success … we will still be cheering you on. Always.”

President Schapiro, along with Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin, spoke about the importance of asking for help from peers and the many resources offered at the University.

“I don’t care if you forget everything I’ve said but this: Ask for help,” Telles-Irvin said. “I can assure you that many of you will need to ask for help at some point during the four years, and that is really great. Do not feel like you’re the only one.”

Now you’re a Wildcat, and we Wildcats protect our own.”

Nehaarika Mulukutla
Associated Student Government president

She comforted anxious new students by telling them they belong at Northwestern. She also reminded them they will surely encounter people who they disagree with or who challenge their opinions, but to approach those situations with an open mind.

“The Northwestern experience … is about meeting classmates who are very different from you, making the commitment to open yourself up to those differences, and making sure that our campus continues to be a very inclusive one.”

Holloway echoed that sentiment.

“At some point in the next handful of years, you will find your core ideas challenged, and you will wonder if you have arrived at a moment when you must stand up,” Holloway said. “For many of you, that moment may be difficult and perhaps even terrifying. Let me suggest that you look at that moment as a gift.”

Finally, President Schapiro explained why safe spaces are a priority at the University.

“The reason we do it is that once you’re in a safe space, you get confidence, you feel good about yourself,” Schapiro said. “And when you feel good about yourself and you have confidence, then you go into uncomfortable learning.

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